By Cindy Yantis
It often comes when you're not expecting it. At least it did for me.
It was the middle of the night. The year was 2002. I was tossing and turning, thrashing in and out of the sheets because I alternated between sweating and freezing. No, I wasn’t ill. No, I wasn’t having a hot flash. But, my breath was hot as I sighed, the weight of the world on each exhale.
Dark Night of the Soul
I’ve come to understand I was having what could be known as a “dark night of the soul.”
The origin of this phrase goes back to a 16th century poem by Spanish Poet St. John of the Cross, where the poem narrates "the journey of the soul to mystical union with God." Eckhart Tolle defines it today as, “…a collapse of a perceived meaning in life, an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaningless…what really has collapsed is the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it.”
This was exactly what was happening to me. My mind was engaged in a war of purpose, while I pleaded, cried, even screamed in prayer.
Ever had one of those, a dark night of the soul? It can be triggered by any number of things – anything that can rock your current existence, from a personal tragedy or loss, to a deep feeling of loss of direction or purpose.
But, as Eckhart said, the dark night of the soul “awakens you into something deeper… A deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life. It’s a kind of re-birth.” A spiritual awakening.
Well, I’ve experienced a few nights (and days) like this as I’ve evolved and grown in my human experience and as my consciousness has expanded. And, they can be gut and heart wrenching to go through. But, there are two that stand out as re-birth moments in my purpose – in 2002 and very recently – and what’s so mysterious and awesome is that they’re connected.
But back in 2002, it had been four years since I’d uprooted my life in Michigan to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the arts, acting particularly at the time. I’d had a few trickles of success: some theatre roles, a co-star spot on NYPD BLUE, and several national commercials (McDonald’s paid for the redecoration of my West Hollywood condo). And, I had started writing, mostly so I could write roles for myself in which I could act. I wrote and starred in a tiny short film that I used to help me get an agent. I wrote a piece for an industry workshop. And, I wrote my first script, which placed in a prestigious screenwriting competition and helped me get my first literary manager.
But, so much of it felt like an uphill climb. I felt like I had a gift, but I felt split. I enjoyed the making of the art, but the business was daunting. And, if I’m being honest, which at this point that’s all I can be, I wasn’t sure I wanted the acting thing badly enough to do what I knew it was going to take, that being a guerrilla approach to self-promotion. Whenever I did it, it didn’t feel authentic. And, I certainly didn’t enjoy it. And, truthfully, I didn’t think I was a good enough actor to break through the fray of other actors who really, really, really wanted it. The writing was still fairly new, although I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was ten. And, I didn’t know what to do with it, really. Self-promotion was going to be involved with that too.
So anyway. That night. With the soul. Some of these unvoiced and hidden truths were swimming around in my subconscious. Some of them I wasn’t ready to admit because I was determined to find my purpose, and I didn’t give up easily. As a lifelong seeker that was a force that was innate. My body was in pain as I stiffened on top of my mattress; my mouth was dry and I became aware that I was constantly sighing heavily, audibly a whisper of wanting that led to my conversation with God, my Source, my Higher Wisdom.
“God, what am I to do? Why is this so difficult? If it’s my purpose shouldn’t it be easier?”
The silence was beyond deafening, until another sigh of desperation exploded from me. “Why did you give me these gifts?” More silence. My cat, Callie, who had previously become very bored with my bed-top one-woman show of angst, came slinking back into the room. Like she wanted to hear the answer to this as well.
“Please help me. What am I supposed to do?”
And, then it came. An answer I wasn’t expecting, but it was very direct, short and surprisingly sweet. It made me bolt up from bed.
“Write meaningful prose that will change people’s lives.”
What? I can tell you, those were not my words. I didn’t use the word prose. But, that’s what I was told. “Write meaningful prose that will change people’s lives.”
Was that the call of my calling?
That’s when it became the “aha night” when I heard the call of the soul.
My body relaxed as I settled into this new mantra of truth. A mantra that has carried me ever since. So, my focus became writing. I’ve evolved into a pretty good storyteller, screenwriting mostly, my wheelhouse being characters, primarily women, who are in self-discovery, smart, sardonic women with big flaws. Heroines who also have dark nights of the soul. And, there’s movement around a few of them, although it’s Hollywood movement, which can mimic molasses. I’m okay with that though. All in the right timing, with the right people. And, this blog Thought Changer, was birthed from that mantra as it's about changing your life, an idea, an expression, a thought at a time.
Calling fulfilled? Maybe. At times it feels that way.
But, something has recently shifted around it, causing more angst. Oy!
After breaking my wrist and taking the time to reassess priorities, I decided to concentrate on writing a novel that I’ve been researching for awhile.
Also, during this time of rehabilitation I’d engaged with a couple of healers for energy healing sessions. Now, this may sound a little woo-woo for some, but hey this is my world, these are my peeps and it’s how I roll. So, hang with me. I love exploring different healing modalities and they have opened up my life and expanded my mind. Anyway, during the course of the sessions with both of these women, they received strong messages from my angels, spirit guides and loved ones that I’m supposed to do some more deep writing about myself. Both of them said the same thing, on separate occasions: I have a story of my own to tell. And, I said, "Aw thanks. I’ll definitely do that some day." And then I filed it away under the category “maybe someday when I’m interesting.” But these readings happened at a time when there was a lot of quiet in my life, so I heard it on a deeper level. Oh, and they also gave me specific topics and events I’m supposed to write about. Yeah, I know, but that's exactly what happened.
Well, that scared the crap out of me. I think because I knew what that was going to mean. Raw, hard truths that are challenging enough to admit to myself, let alone put out there to the world for others to read. And, my perception is that memoirists have really interesting lives that include huge events - often tragic and dysfunctional family lives - that catapult them into subjects of literary fame. I don't have that. I have a wonderful family that functions pretty well, most of the time.
But, there are some dark and transforming moments, as with any life. So, what did I do? I decided my new novel would be based on some real events in my life. I gave the main character some of my story, writing actual scenes from my life into it and recreating them. That way, I could embellish them and create a much more interesting story than what mine is or would be. That felt like the perfect solution! Much easier to hide behind a fictional character than to reveal anything messy about myself. I don’t show the world my messy. And, I could really write it! Write what you know, right? So, I wrote a few of those chapters and laid out a kickass outline that I was excited about.
Then, I stopped writing. I literally couldn’t write. I researched and made notes. But, I wasn’t writing the novel. I didn't know what to do with her, this character that was sort of me, but wasn't at all me. Procrastination became an appointment in my daily calendar. And. It. Was. Frustrating. Any prolificacy that I’d previously experienced when on a project had left the building.
When the Call Comes Again
So, I created a weekend writing retreat to help me focus. I got a lot done, both on the novel outline and the blog. I was tapping into some deep work. Although something was still in the way, scenes just weren't forming.
As part of the retreat I took part in an herbal tea meditation and breath workshop. The healing breath work was very intense. As the practitioner, Melissa Terese Young, told us, the consistent and deep breath pattern when done for an extended period of time (we did it for close to an hour) over oxygenates your brain and body and puts you into a meditative, and at times alternative, state. A lot came up for me during the session around my novel, my work and more aspirational questions than answers came forth.
That night, in bed, is when the 2nd night of the soul took place. Tossing and turning. I couldn’t sleep and I was feeling a collision of purpose coming. The difference this time is I had some sense of navigation because I’d been here before. So, again I prayed and I asked, “What is stopping me?” “Why have I been so stuck in my writing?” “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” "Please guide me on what's next."
In the silence that followed, a small voice came. “Write meaningful prose that will change YOUR life.” Hmmm. It went on. “Take your story back and tell your own story.” And, the deeper message I got was that the more I dove into my own truths, pains, revelations and transformations, the deeper the connection will be with those who read it, connection to that deep wanting and truth within themselves too.
Now that is a calling that rings really true. And, it petrifies me.
"Every time I picked up a pen, this grinding, unnamed fear overcame me—later identified as fear that my real self would spill out. One can’t mount a stripper pole wearing a metal diving suit. What I needed to write kept simmering up while I wrote down everything but that. In fact, I kept ginning out reasons that writing reality was impossible. I cranked up therapy and drank like a fish.” ― Mary Karr,
So, I’m committing to it, to writing those scenes from my own life, whether it’s about the loss of a baby and a marriage, the depths of food addiction, the perils of the hysterically funny and tragic voices in my head as I discovered boys and ran up against mean girls, the shame of pretty, the Miss America Pageant, the path of being a childless woman, the eye-opening metaphors that shifted my perspective and my own spiritual exploration, from Sunday school to shamanic journeys in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. It’s all game and I have no idea what it’s going to look like or what path the story will take.
But, it’s calling. So, I’m answering the call. And guess what? It's pouring out of me, like a waterfall of life.
So, how do you know when your call is calling?
The best way I know is to:
- Ask those deep questions - and then get quiet. Really quiet.
- Listen intently - to what your inner voice tells you. It may be a soft whisper, or it may be a shout that makes you jump out of bed.
- Pay attention - when your entire being feels in accord with that voice, pay close attention.
That just might be the call.